Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Discovering an ecosystem beneath a collapsed Antarctic ice shelf

19.07.2005


The chance discovery of a vast ecosystem beneath the collapsed Larsen Ice Shelf will allow scientists to explore the uncharted life below Antarctica’s floating ice shelves and further probe the origins of life in extreme environments. Researchers discovered the sunless habitat after a recent underwater video study examining a deep glacial trough in the northwestern Weddell Sea following the sudden Larsen B shelf collapse in 2002.



"This is definitely the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved with in the Antarctic," said Eugene Domack, a professor at Hamilton College in New York and lead author of the report detailing the ecosystem. The article will be published in the 19 July issue of Eos, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union. "Seeing these organisms on the ocean bottom--it’s like lifting the carpet off the floor and finding a layer that you never knew was there."

Domack suggests the strong possibility that new species of marine life may be uncovered in continuing analyses of the area as ecosystem experts sample the site. The international expedition was there on a U.S. Antarctic Program cruise to study the sediment record in the area vacated by the former ice shelf. The crew recorded a video of the seafloor at the end of its mission and only later discovered a thriving clam community, mud volcanoes, and a thin layer of bacterial mats.


The discovery could provide evidence for researchers to better understand the dynamics within the inhospitable sub-ice setting, which covers more than 1.5 million square kilometers [nearly 580,000 square miles] of seafloor, or an area of the same magnitude as the Amazon basin in Brazil or the Sahara Desert. The ecosystem, known as a "cold-seep" (or cold-vent) community, is fed by chemical energy from within the Earth, unlike ecosystems that are driven by photosynthesis or hot emissions from the planet’s crust. Domack and his coauthors propose that methane from deep underwater vents likely provide the energy source capable of sustaining the chemical life at the observed 850-meter [approximately 2800-foot] depth.

Such extreme cold-vent regions have previously been found near Monterey, California, where the phenomenon was discovered in 1984, in the Gulf of Mexico, and deep within the Sea of Japan. The recent report, however, presents the first finding of the type in the Antarctic, where the near-freezing water temperatures and almost completely uncharted territory will likely provide a baseline for researchers to probe portions of the ocean floor that have been undisturbed for nearly 10,000 years. The researchers speculate, for example, that the ice shelves themselves may have played a critical role in allowing the chemical habitat to thrive on the seafloor when it otherwise might not have established itself.

Domack noted, however, that the calving of the Larsen B Shelf has opened the pristine chemical-based ecosystem to disturbances and debris that have already begun to bury the delicate mats and mollusks established within the underwater environment. He added that there may be a sense of urgency to investigate the unusual seafloor ecology below the Larsen shelf because of the likelihood of increased sediment deposition.

In addition, he suggests that the newfound system may provide incentive to launch studies to other remote undersea environments in the poles and in other glacial settings such as Lake Vostok, also in the Antarctic, to further explore the little-understood connection where ice sheets, the seafloor, and circulating water meet. The researchers indicate that the knowledge gained from any subsequent studies could enhance the examination of subterranean water on Earth or the hypothesized ocean beneath the surface on the Jovian moon Europa.

Harvey Leifert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Filling the gap: High-latitude volcanic eruptions also have global impact
20.11.2017 | Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

nachricht Antarctic landscape insights keep ice loss forecasts on the radar
20.11.2017 | University of Edinburgh

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Antarctic landscape insights keep ice loss forecasts on the radar

20.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

Filling the gap: High-latitude volcanic eruptions also have global impact

20.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

Water world

20.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>